Every year, in a little village west of Oxford, there is a bike event. It’s called simply “Cassington Bike Night” and it attracts riders from all over the UK and even a few who ride from continental Europe. I’ve been going to Cassington on the last Monday evening in June since I could ride a motorcycle. It’s a chance to meet old friends, make new ones, drool over old bikes and enjoy just being with likeminded riders.
There’s never trouble at Cassington. There’s never been an accident – despite more than eight thousand bikers turning up for the space of about three hours then riding home again. It’s a good-natured do. Even the local speed camera partnership only got a bit of good natured ribbing when they turned up a couple of years ago.
But this year it’s different.
I heard from a riding mate that Cassington had been cancelled. In Bikeland, that’s like the Royal Wedding getting the can. I asked why? Apparently, the organisers had been faced up by the local authority who demanded they close the road and jump through an entire course of Health and Safety hoops. Now, how much do you think it costs a local authority to close a road for a few hours? £50? £100? Nah – this is Localauthorityland. It’s a place where real money doesn’t exit – until it’s taken out of taxpayers’ pockets. Closing half a mile of road in Cassington for a couple of hours clocks in at £1,500. I wish someone would pay me a grand and a half to say “no”.
But, even were the organisers (the splendid British Motorcycle Riders’ Club) to stump up the money, the County Council says it’s too late to get the grind-oh-so-fine cash-greased Council machinery moving in time to shut the road.
So, to post a couple of policemen and a sign or two, fill in a few forms, tick a few boxes and genuflect thrice (mind the trip hazard) to the little tin gods of Stealth & Hasty not only costs £1,500 but can’t be organised any faster than a glacier on tamazepam?
It gets better. According to another mate, the local district council told the organisers to apply for a road closure. Better still, they apparently demanded that all 8,000 bikers push their machines the last quarter mile into the village. Ever tried pushing a motorcycle a quarter of a mile? On 19th April apparently, the BMRCO met the district council again and, sensibly, explained that 8,000 people trying to push their bikes that far would be more dangerous than riding them. Not content with a good injection of common sense the council asked for a “traffic plan” instead. But when BMRCO asked them “What’s a traffic plan”, council officials didn’t really explain.
David Cameron is our local MP here in West Oxfordshire. On 10 July last year, he said “The Big Society will be the biggest, most dramatic redistribution of power to the man and woman on the street”. And “This is all about giving people more power and control to improve their lives and communities.”
Cassington is the archetypal Big Society event. It raises thousands of pounds for the local primary school and local charities. It brings people together. It inspires some with a love of bikes that lasts a lifetime. And now it’s been pecked to death by the petty blunt-billed ducks of local authority and wrapped up with a red-tape bow on top.
Mr Cameron again. “I can announce today that we are taking on the enemies of enterprise. The bureaucrats who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible. The town hall officials who take forever to make decisions…”
So, Mr Cameron, this is in YOUR constituency. A Big Society event has been strangled by the nylon-trousered and risk-averse. If you’re really serious about promoting a Big Society and getting rid of the pointless pointyheadedness that now characterises British life, show you mean it and drop in on Cassington on the last Monday evening in June. We’ll see you there. Because you need a lot more than red tape to stop a motorcycle – whether it’s pushed or not.